Monday's featured story of the day, “Valona More Than a Concierge,” was originally a story idea from former Tecton/Desires President Raul Leal, who is now COO of the new Virgin Hotels brand. He suggested a story spotlighting the importance of a great concierge, and in particular his former company's manager of desires position.
Although I do love visiting the Iron Horse, I almost would have preferred featuring a different hotel since I've already written about the Milwaukee boutique property. But Leal said, without a doubt, the best manager of desires they had in the Desires portfolio was James Valona.
After spending an afternoon with Valona, I can see why. He truly cared about all the guests and making sure they had a great experience. Hopefully that is apparent in the story.
Some other interesting nuggets that didn't make the story:
• Valona says he gets a celebrity guest every month or so, and he hasn't had too many high-maintenance ones. “I've never had to do the 13 green M&Ms,” he says. He doesn't really even remember celebrity stories anymore. “The first month I probably did, but they're commonplace now,” he says. With some prodding, he said one of his favorites was one of his firsts: Tommy Lee. Two recent celebs—Usher and Carrie Underwood—were very low maintenance, especially Underwood, who carried out her own bags unrecognized by most.
• Besides dealing with celebrities, the other thing I assumed a concierge spent a lot of time with was getting tickets and reservations to events and exclusive hotspots. Valona says that's not as common anymore, and he attributes it to the growth of smart phones and the ease of online planning and booking.
• On getting weird and crazy requests? “The last one I did was a naughty bag,” he says. “It was kind of funny. He wanted all sorts of sexual stuff and was trying to explain. I was like, â€˜Listen, there is nothing you can say to me that will bother me or I haven't heard before. If you tell me what you want, I can better help you.”
• Valona also peruses TripAdvisor for feedback, and other social media sites, as well as reading all the comment cards each month because he wants to “know as much you can to get better.”
• Not surprisingly, as the face of the hotel's service culture, he also is the one handling complaints. His trick? “No matter how mad they are, I usually can get them to laugh by the end of the conversation and that's the key.”
• And also not surprisingly, one of the things that makes Valona so great at his job is his passion for Milwaukee. “The more I travel, the more I appreciate it here. The food is amazing, there's definitely a night life,” he explains. “And the people are so cool. I've had the opportunity to move several times, but I really, really like Milwaukee.”